RSS Feed

Tag Archives: tours

Interview with James Kiptoo, birding guide in Kenya

Tell us about yourself Kip:

My full names are James Kiptoo and I’ve been interested in birds for a very long time.  During my childhood, I didn’t pay much attention to birds because in my culture we didn’t consider birds as something special.  I used to be a scout and then they chose me to be a scout leader. We used to go camping a lot and also being a leader I used to teach the other scouts.  We used to go on outings but we didn’t use real tents, just poly-thin papers, so I got used to camping.

After primary school, I went to high school and after high school I joined Wildlife Clubs and it was from there that I studied more about nature and animals.  After high school, I joined college and there I started studying birds, animals, reptiles and other things you find in the wilderness.  So my interest in birds grew and I started joining other clubs and societies.  We have the National Museums of Kenya where the Natural History Society of Kenya is based as well as the museum’s Ornithology Department.  On one visit to the Ornithology Department we were shown all the stuffed birds in the drawers and from there my interest really started developing more.

I was introduced to Nature Kenya in 1996. At Nature Kenya, I really praise my mentor Fleur Ng’weno (my daughter is also called Fleur).  Fleur knows birds like the back of the hand; she can tell you everything.  Every Wednesday we have bird walks at the museum and every Wednesday we would come close to her and she would give us binoculars.  It was our first experience with binoculars so we couldn’t tell if they were bad or good, but we were very happy to have them.

With the birds there are many ways of identifying them, one is by the call. You can also tell the bird by the mode of flight, by the habitat, and the mode of feeding. For example, in Nairobi we have the scavengers like the Marabou Stork. We also have the sparrows and here at home I have a Rufous Sparrow nesting outside.

Easter Birding Tour, OTA Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

Nature Kenya does ringing of birds. They put the ring on their feet and that ring has lots of information.  If you find a dead bird and it has a ring, take it to the museum and they can tell where it breeds, how far it has travelled, and so on.

What is your favourite bird?

I don’t have a favourite, all are my favourite.  When I find a new bird, that’s a ‘lifer’, and then it becomes a favourite.

Easter Birding Tour, OTA Kenya, http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com/#!birding-tour/cfme

In Kenya we have about 1089 species of birds because we have the right habitat for all these birds.  We have deserts, forests, seas, savannahs, and oceans. So birds have no reason why they cannot come here.  Kenya has a flyway where birds from Eastern Europe, as far as Siberia, migrate.  We have interesting birds like the Warblers and the Blackcap who move for a very long distance, and this makes me really appreciate birds.  You know how cold and far away Siberia is: this tiny bird comes all that way to escape the cold weather!  They come because they want to breed or feed.

Where is your favourite place for birding?

In Kenya we have places called IBAs – Important Bird Areas.  They are special according to what species you can find there, so the 60 IBAs in Kenya are my favourite places.  They are recognised globally, and also regionally, because of one or a few individual species found there.  In Kenya we have quite a number of endemic birds.  For example if you go to Kinangop Grasslands not far from Nairobi, near Naivasha, we have a bird called Sharpe’s Long Claw which is endemic to that area. People from all over the world come to that area to see the Sharpe’s Long Claw.  When you go to Kiriaini or Mwea you have the Hinde’s Babbler, which is the only endemic species you can find in that area.

We also have the coastal birds of Kenya.  When you go to Arabuko Sokoke for example, you have birds like Sokoke Scops Owl and Sokoe Pipit, just to name a few.  In north-eastern Kenya we have the William’s Lark that we don’t have anywhere else; it’s endemic.

Why is Lake Magadi so special during the Easter period?

Easter is when Lake Magadi will have received some rain.  Bear in mind that Magadi is very hot, but after the rains it’s beautiful because of all these small grass and other plants emerging and the area becomes green and flowers grow.  The bees are sucking the nectar from flowers and the birds are flying in because the water has just landed.  In the Magadi area we have unique habitats for water species like Spoonbills, Flamingos, Crowned Plovers, Kittlitz’s Plovers, and Three-banded Plovers.

But before you get to Magadi, there are a number of places you have to visit first.  For instance, this trip will be starting from Ngong Hills.  The change in altitude is quite drastic – from Ngong town you go up to the wind turbines and met station.  Then from Corner Baridi you descend to see more dry land species.  Among them you might see or hear the White-bellied Go-away-bird, the Chinspot Batis or the Brubru.  The Brubru is a very small bird with rufous or red flanks.  It’s tiny but makes a very loud call, like someone whistling.

Given March to June is the season for seeing migratory birds in Kenya, can you tell us more about that?

As I said earlier, birds migrate from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Siberia, that’s the long-distance migration.  The short-distance migration is like the flamingos moving between Lakes Nakuru, Bogoria, Baringo and Oloiden.  The other is the vertical migration where you might see a bird such as the Tacazze Sunbird at the top of Mt Kenya and then next time it is in the Naro Moro area (at the base of the mountain).  They come down to breed.

The long-distance or intra-africa migration is starting now and we are seeing several birds from Europe like the Spotted Thrush, Rock Thrush and Eurasion Bee-eaters.  The birds that migrate from Madagascar (which is a unique habitat) form the Malagasy migration.

What are some “fun facts” you can share with us about birds?

In some communities, if you see a Woodpecker pecking on the left side of the tree they advise you not to continue with that safari.  If you are walking and see an Auger Buzzard and it shows you its white belly then that is good luck.

Preparing for African travel checklist

There is so much to think about when preparing for a trip and Africa can be especially daunting as it is so unknown.  This list will help make sure you remember everything as you prepare for your safari adventure.

1. Passport

  • Your passport should be valid for at least six months after the end date of your trip.
  • As most African countries require visas for most nationalities, it is a good idea to ensure you have one blank page for each country to be visited.  So if the passport is getting full and you are planning a big overland journey, it might be a good time to renew.

2. Visas

  • Check with the embassy of the country (or countries) to be visited whether your nationality needs a visa.  In sub-Saharan Africa, visas can easily be acquired on entry, but this is not true for all nationalities.  Do not rely on your tour operator to know the rules for every nationality either – it is usually your responsibility to find out this information and, of course, apply in advance for those visas if necessary.

3. Travel Insurance

  • In Europe, many travellers forego travel insurance and take their chances.  It is simply not worth it in Africa.  The medical facilities available are usually not up to the standards in the West so having emergency evacuation cover is essential.  Protection against petty theft, lost luggage and sham tour operators are also helpful.

4. Book flights, tours, accommodation

  • The general wisdom is that eight weeks prior to travel is the optimal time to book flights.  There are plenty of online booking engines that can find cheap flights, but for a complicated itinerary there are still travel agents ready to assist.
  • Travelling in Africa is much easier on a tour, whether you join a group departure or organise a tailor-made safari.  If you prefer a tailor-made itinerary, it is good to start finding an operator at least three months in advance.  That will give you time to properly check out a few operators and make sure your itinerary is exactly what you want.
  • Check the inclusions of the tour and book accommodation for the first and/or last night if necessary.

5. Vaccinations

  • Talk to your doctor or a travel clinic about which vaccinations you need for the particular countries on your itinerary.
  • Allow at least six weeks before travel to get the vaccinations as some require a course of doses.

6. Airport transfers

  • After a long flight, haggling with a taxi driver is often the last thing you want to do.  Even if it costs a little bit more than you think you will be able to get it (not always true by the way), having someone meet you at the airport is one of life’s little joys.
  • And don’t forget to organise someone to pick you up when you return home as well!

7. Money

  • Check what ATM and credit card facilities are available in your destination.
  • Ensure you have enough cash to keep you going for the first few days – US dollars are still the currency of choice throughout most of Africa, although Pounds Stirling and Euros can be easily exchanged in cities.
  • Stash US$100 somewhere in your luggage for emergencies (running out of beer is NOT an emergency).

8. Pet care

  • Organising a house sitter is often less stressful for your animal and also protects your home security while you are away.

P1070963

9. Pack

  • Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to buy a new “safari wardrobe” for travelling in Africa.  Khaki is not a vital requirement.  Of course the specially-designed lightweight travel clothing is great if you are undertaking a long journey lugging your own bag around.
  • Pack for a Purpose is a fantastic website that has lists of equipment needed by projects all over the world.  If you have spare space in your suitcase, be sure to check the site for your destination and see what useful donations you can bring along

10. Language

  • Learning some of the local language gives you the opportunity to interact with people in your destination.  Often their English will be better than your KiSwahili, but it breaks the ice if you greet someone in their own language.

Although the focus of this checklist has been on African travel, it can be applied to most anywhere.  Getting these ten items organised will ensure you are ready and relaxed by the time you take off.

widows' village (2)

Maasai Mara in December anyone?

Come on safari in Kenya with OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Covering Kenya’s top game park, this three-day safari showcases the best of Kenya!

HIGHLIGHTS:
• Spectacular wildlife in Maasai Mara
• Meet Maasai in their traditional village
• Nairobi – plenty to do in East Africa’s capital

12 December: Nairobi to Maasai Mara
Pick up from the airport on arrival and drive to the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve arriving in time for lunch. Maasai Mara, Kenya’s greatest wildlife reserve, is without a doubt Africa’s most famous safari destination. The Maasai Mara Ecosystem is where over two million wildebeest and zebra migrate annually. It also holds one of the highest lion densities in the world, which is why it the home of the BBC wildlife channel’s Big Cat Diary. Other game includes: leopard, cheetah, buffalo, rhino, elephant, giraffe, zebra, lion, plains game, crocodile and small mammals including mongoose, hyrax, dik dik and the nocturnal porcupine. Enjoy a late afternoon game drive followed by dinner.
Included meals: Lunch, Dinner

13 December: Maasai Mara to Nairobi
Start the day with an optional early morning hot air balloon flight, including full champagne breakfast in the savannah, or proceed on another game drive. Spend the morning game driving in the Maasai Mara. The abundance and variety of game in this reserve is nothing short of amazing. Nearly every mammal can be seen in the Maasai Mara, including various antelopes, scavengers like hyena and vultures, and all the cats (lion, cheetah and leopard). Sighting a leopard needs luck more than just being there, but lions are abundant and there are excellent chances for spotting cheetah. The hippo pool is a popular spot to watch out for hippos; with luck, you may catch crocodile basking on the rocks. Elephants, buffalo, the Maasai giraffe, wildebeest and the common zebra abound. After lunch visit a nearby Maasai village to see their nomadic lifestyle and learn about their traditions and culture before heading back to Nairobi for the night.
Included meals: Breakfast

14 December: Nairobi
Visit the Animal Orphanage, David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Centre and Kazuri Beads on a full day city tour of Nairobi.
Included meals: Breakfast

Total Cost: US$741 per person

Inclusions:
• All accommodation in basic accommodation
• All meals listed in the itinerary
• All transport and tours/game drives as listed on the itinerary in a comfortable safari van with pop up roof fit for photography, game viewing and touring
• Service of an English-speaking professional driver/guide
• Park entry fees and game drives in Maasai Mara Game Reserve (US$80 per day)
• Entrance fee to the Animal Orphanage (US$15)
• Entrance fee to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
• Entrance fee to the Giraffe Centre
• Arrival and departures transfers to and from the airport in Nairobi

Not Included:
• Travel insurance
• International flights and visas for Kenya ($50 to be confirmed by you for your nationality)
• Meals not listed
• Personal expenses or room charges including laundry, drinks and phone calls
• Vaccinations
• Additional optional activities
• Tips or gratuities – an entirely personal gesture

Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information and to book your space today!

Slum Tours – good or bad?

The image of a group of affluent white tourists with intrusive cameras staring at poor people is reasonable cause to be outraged at “Slum Tourism”.  As community engagement and responsible travel become more popular principles, so the slum tourism concept gains strength.  This article will describe what this concept is; examine its benefits and pitfalls; and give tips on how to participate in such tours ethically and responsibly.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Amani Kibera is a community-based organisation who have a number of projects working towards peace and assisting young people in the Kibera slum. Guests can visit their library and other projects and learn how the projects change lives.

Slum tourism, as the name suggests, involves visiting impoverished areas or slums in developing countries.  The key countries where one would find these tours include India, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia and South Africa.  Although the concept began in London and New York in the late 1800s, it was during the 1980s in South Africa that it started becoming more prominent.  Black residents organised “township tours” to educate the white local government officials on how they lived.  The tours started to attract international tourists wanting to learn more about apartheid.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Enjoying lunch in a local restaurant in Kibera slum

Despite these positive intentions, some township or slum tours have devolved into little more than another safari, voyeuristically looking out the bus window at the squalid conditions, turning poverty into entertainment.  Watching people struggling for their basic needs does not really help anyone and, it can be argued, it robs those people of their dignity.  Tour operators are seen to be essentially exploiting the misfortune of others.  Often tour operators do not give back to the community and fail to seek consent from the residents to treat their home like a zoo.  It also encourages a hand out society if donations are not controlled – tourists randomly throwing money and sweets out the window teaches children that they don’t need to go to school, rather they can trail after tour buses waiting for the riches to rain down.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Silverplate School in Korogocho slum/ the school was set up by Lucas who saw large numbers of children picking through the local dump site instead of going to school.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad; there are benefits to these tours, both to the communities and the travellers if conducted with the right attitude.  Often the tourists wanting to participate in a slum tour are from developed countries and have never seen such destitution.  It increases awareness of poverty and issues around poverty, making it a real concern rather than something that happens in a far off land of no concern to them.  Many tourists often come to the slums to put their life into perspective (see #firstworldproblems).  For travellers, it is a chance to see how people live and how hard they must work to provide for their families.  It is also good, however, to see that slums and townships are not just places of destitution and misery, but are actually vibrant communities with shops, schools, laughter, and optimism.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The students pay what they can, but for Lucas the priority is for them to get an education.

The tours give an opportunity for the local economy to benefit.  Travellers can buy lunch, use a local guide and buy souvenirs from craft-workers.  Employment and income for these people usually results in their profit being invested back in the community, creating a flow-on benefit.  Many slum tours are organised by community-based organisations with the intention of creating jobs and extra income for residents.  During a slum tour, travellers can donate directly to those in need (rather than having half their donation lost in “administration costs” when donating to large NGOs at home).  There is the opportunity to visit community projects, schools, and other non-profit organisations.  Donations can be in the form of money or goods such as stationary for schools or clothes for an orphanage.  Many travellers feel more inclined to donate after experiencing a small slice of day-to-day life in the slums.

Korogocho, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Being from the area himself, Lucas is able to work with the community to garner support for the school and encourage families to ensure they send their children.

So if the bad effects are so bad, yet the good effects are so good, how does one decide whether to participate in a slum tour or not?  Here are three key things to look for in choosing your slum tour:

  1. Are local guides being employed?
  2. Does the money you pay for the tour go back into the community?
  3. Does the operator genuinely support the community?

You should ask plenty of questions of your tour operator to ensure they are ethical and responsible in their conduct of slum tours.  A few considerations you should ask about include:

  • The size of the tour group – a big group is very intrusive and there is no way you can have proper interaction with community members while small groups can interact respectfully with residents.
  • Is it a walking tour or will you be travelling in a bus, just clicking your camera from the window?
  • How much is the community involved in working with the tour company?

The Boston’s University’s paper on “poverty tourism” says that slum tours should be conducted in” a well-established collaborative and consensual process”, much like the “fair trade” process.

Sharing the challenges, dreams and aspirations of communities provides the opportunity of getting connected with our global village.  Participating in slum tours need not be a voyeuristic exploitative process, but can be a mutually beneficial relationship between visitors and residents.  The opportunities to connect to further the relationships for capacity development or simply facilitating donations are aided by the direct interaction slum tours can provide.  It is just important to ensure you use ethical, responsible tour operators who work with communities rather than just use them for their own gains.

Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Kids playing in the school yard in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum

%d bloggers like this: